Interviewed by Sarah Fishko for the WNYC show “Fishko Files” about the origins of the title “Ms.” (June 28, 2012)
Ben Zimmer – a language columnist, linguist and lexicographer – traced the earliest origins of “Ms.” to a November 1901 edition of The Sunday Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts. In the article the writer called for “a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views to their domestic situation.”
A recent article in The Washington Post points out that most members of congress are actually avoiding the term “congress” in their campaign ads, since the institution is so unpopular right now. What other buzzwords are politicians avoiding in 2012? And which ones are they emphasizing? We talk to Ben Zimmer about trends in campaign rhetoric in 2012.
Ground zero originated at the end of World War II as a military term for the detonation site of atomic bombs, then came to be used more broadly to mean a center of activity, according to linguist Ben Zimmer, who has written on the subject. News organizations began using the term for the destroyed World Trade Center within just hours of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.
“It served as a very useful label in the same way that ‘9/11’ became a shorthand,” Zimmer says.
But “as the building has risen, using that term ground zero seems inappropriate because it is the site of construction and not destruction,” he says. “If you’re going to work in that building, you wouldn’t say you work at ground zero. That wouldn’t make any sense at all.”
He says ground zero could remain common usage in discussing such things as illnesses suffered by those who cleaned up the site, since “that’s specifically anchored to that time and place, what they experienced.”
Interview on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” about the debates over defining “marriage.” (June 14, 2012)
In a recent column, Ben Zimmer wrote, “Is there any word currently more contested in our culture than marriage?” As the debate about same-sex marriage continues, he examines the definition of marriage and the ways advocates and opponents of same-sex unions use language to advance their positions.